Almost two years after going public about being a lesbian, breaking a barrier as the first commercial country music star to come out, Chely Wright says the experience has been "everything one might imagine" and "by and large it's been really positive." But she's also received death threats and hate mail, some from fans who just couldn't accept it. And Wright has witnessed the stone cold silence of so many other country music stars, many of whom she considers her friends but realizes don’t have the courage to speak out.
"Many of them I know have a personal feeling about gays and lesbians because I’ve received support from them privately," she said on my radio program on SiriusXM OutQ, a week after she cut the ribbon at the LikeMe Lighthouse, an LGBT Center she founded in her hometown, Kansas City. "The minute I came out I received several beautiful emails of support from my friends. Now, most of them did not say any word publicly in support of me."
Wright could only name three who in fact spoke out in support.
"The only ones who supported me publicly are Mary Chapin Carpenter, Leann Rimes and SHeDAISY," she said.
Some of her friends among country stars -- though "not all of them" -- did reach out to her privately, but they were apparently fearful of coming out publicly in support.
"Privately -- Faith Hill, Trisha Yearwood and Naomi Judd. Now, there are a lot of people who make country records, and I know all of them," she explained, emphasizing that no one else supported her, publicly or privately, obviously including male country stars.
"I think some of the artists really have a fundamental belief that there's something wrong with me," Wright opined. "But I think most of the artists don't want their fans to know that they're supportive of me because they don't want to lose a record sale. Because, look, there's a reason I'm the first artist to come out in commercial country music. I don’t want to be a hypocrite here, but I am a bit of a hypocrite. I hid for 17 years. I'm a hider just as well as anyone else is, whether they’re a straight person who’s hidden their support of the LGBT community or a gay person who’s hiding in country music. There's a reason we hide in country music. Because we know who buys our records by and large. It’s a christian conservative fan base who doesn’t approve or thinks we’re going to hell. You know, I receive a lot of letters from people who say, 'I won't support that sick behavior.' it’s not pretty."
But the high points of coming out have been well worth the lows, Wright explained, sometimes with emotions welling up.
"It's amazing and everything I prayed and hoped it would be,” Wright, who also got married last year, said. “It's not lost on me that it's a blessing. I had a gal hand-write a letter to me that was ten pages long, and the ink was smeared and I wondered if maybe she cried when she wrote the letter. And I said, 'Do you not have a computer? Why did you hand-write this?' And she said, 'I was afraid my mom would search my computer.' And she said, 'I was thinking of taking my life the night I wrote this letter and I think you saved my life.' That’s pretty powerful stuff. It’s just a blessing."
"What it means for Kansas City and the heartland is that it can really create a sense of connectivity," she said. "Kansas City has a really robust LGBT community. It deserves a place like the Lighthouse. It's right there on Main Street, where people can go. It's bright and open and beautiful. This is not a back door dark place, back alley place with no windows. It's not a bar. It's not a seedy place. It’s a beautiful lighthouse. It's gorgeous. It means everything."
Listen to the interview here:
Take a look at other country stars and their stance on LGBT issues below:
When asked by <em>Out</em> magazine if <a href="http://www.out.com/entertainment/2009/03/15/martina-mcbride-shines" target="_hplink">she feared a backlash from conservative fans</a> if she supported the gay community, the country singer, nominated for Female Vocalist of the Year, replied: <blockquote>"Honestly, I just have to do what's right for me, and what I would tell people is what I believe, which is that I feel like tolerance is very important. I have three daughters and that's what I teach them. I think we should all be tolerant of each other and embrace each other's strengths and differences and uniqueness and beauty."</blockquote>
When the country singer recently dropped by "CMT Insider" and was asked about gay marriage, Keith said <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/01/toby-keith-weighs-in-on-g_n_990404.html" target="_hplink">he didn't doesn't see any reason</a> to get into people's personal lives. When asked about the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell," he offered that anyone with the training and passion should have the right to defend the country and added, "Somebody's sexual preference is, like, who cares?"
When <a href="http://www.people.com/people/article/0,,20365936,00.html" target="_hplink">the country star came out in 2010</a> she told <em>People</em> magazine, "There had never, ever been a country music artist who had acknowledged his or her homosexuality... I wasn't going to be the first." But Wright changed her mind and revealed, "Nothing in my life has been more magical than the moment I decided to come out." But it hasn't all been magic -- <a href="http://www.autostraddle.com/chely-wright-country-music-gay-interview-72366/" target="_hplink">in an interview with Autostraddle.com</a>, Wright revealed that since coming out she has received death threats and her record sales have dropped by 50 percent.
<a href="https://twitter.com/#%21/blakeshelton/status/65999662171172865" target="_hplink">After tweeting</a> "Re-writing my fav Shania Twain song.. Any man that tries Touching my behind He's gonna be a beaten, bleedin', heaving kind of guy..." earlier this year, the country singer, nominated for five awards including Entertainer of the Year and Album of the Year, was met with outrage and demands for an apology from GLAAD and angry fans. Shelton <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/05/05/blake-sheltons-homophobic-tweet_n_858042.html" target="_hplink">quickly tweeted a series of apologies</a>: <blockquote>"Hey y'all allow me to seriously apologize for the misunderstanding with the whole re-write on the Shania song last night... It honestly wasn't even meant that way... I now know that their are people out there waiting to jump at everything I say on here or anywhere...But when it comes to gay/lesbian rights or just feelings... I love everybody. So go look for a real villain and leave me out of it!!!... @glaad hey I want my fans and @nbcthevoice fans to know that anti-gay and lesbian violence is unacceptable!!!!! Help me!!!! And DM me..."</blockquote>
Parton has long been a supporter of the LGBT community. In July of this year, when asked <a href="http://www.windycitymediagroup.com/gay/lesbian/news/ARTICLE.php?AID=32900" target="_hplink">how she feels about her gay fans</a> by the <em>Windy City Times</em>, she replied: <blockquote>"Hey, a big shout-out to them! We have fun with my gay crowds and we always have them. In fact, we are going to California and be in L.A. for two days at the Hollywood Bowl, then in San Francisco. Already, so many of my gay fans have said they are going to be there and be on the front row. I love it. I have always loved my gay fans. They accept me and I accept them. We get along just fine. I am very proud and honored when they dress up like me or whatever they want to do!"</blockquote>
In 2009 the country music trio, nominated for Vocal Group of the Year, released "Love Who You Love," which many in the LGBT community interpreted as a supportive move by the band. Regarding <a href="http://blog.cmt.com/2009-03-23/rascal-flatts-encourage-gay-fans-to-love-who-you-love/" target="_hplink">the reaction to the song</a> Rascal Flatts said: <blockquote>"We actually have some gay people that work with us, and we have a lot of friends that are gay, too, and I know that this song has inspired them... I know that coming out was tough on their parents and on them and the whole entire family. For a long time, some of them didn't get to hear 'I love you' from their dads or be accepted in that way. ... It's helped a lot of our friends... We don't judge anybody's lives..."</blockquote>
Though the country singer, nominated for five awards including Entertainer of the Year and Album of the Year, has never specifically (to our knowledge) spoken out about her LGBT fans, she did include a scene in her "Mean" music video that featured a boy in a purple sweater reading a fashion magazine while being bullied by a team of football players as Swift sings, "You -- picking on the weaker man..."
When Renee Zellweger stated the reason she was divorcing Chesney, nominated for three awards including Musical Event of the Year, was due to fraud, many were quick to assume that the country star was gay. <a href="http://www.cmt.com/news/news-in-brief/1604902/kenny-chesney-talks-candidly-in-playboy-interview.jhtml" target="_hplink">Chesney responded to the accusations</a> in a 2009 <em>Playboy</em> interview by saying: <blockquote>"That is the most unbelievable thing in the world. ... What guy who loves girls wouldn't be angry about that shit? I didn't sign up for that. I think people need to live their lives the way they want to, but I'm pretty confident in the fact that I love girls. (laughs) I've got a long line of girls who could testify that I am not gay."</blockquote>
Jennifer Nettles, one half of Sugarland nominated for Vocal Duo of the Year, <a href="http://chicago.gopride.com/news/interview.cfm/articleid/146169" target="_hplink">praised her gay fans</a> when talking to <em>Chicago Pride</em> in 2009: <blockquote>"I am aware of that, and interestingly enough, I've been aware even before Sugarland. I've actually performed at Gay Pride in Atlanta three times in my career. I've always had a large gay following, particularly in the lesbian community. I am grateful for that. To me, it means my music transcends categories. It also means that I'm a cute girl singing a rock song in an alto voice... I had a friend write me that our music was being played at Gay Pride in New York, which is a big compliment. In the biggest city in the country with the most culture and the most grit -- I love it... It makes me feel proud."</blockquote>
Brooks, who has a lesbian sister, released the song "We Shall Be Free" in 1993 which included the lyrics "When we're free to love anyone we choose." The song was pulled from some radio stations' playlists because of its perceived pro-LGBT theme. <a href="http://www.thegavoice.com/index.php/aae/music/516-the-road-to-country-musics-first-openly-gay-star" target="_hplink">Speaking about LGBT rights</a>, the country singer told <em>George</em> magazine: <blockquote>"I can't see love being a bad thing. Lust is different. But if you're in love, you've got to follow your heart and trust that God will explain to us why we sometimes fall in love with people of the same sex. Judgment Day is coming, and I ain't going to be the one standing over people up there."</blockquote>
The Dixie Chicks have long supported their LGBT fans, but when the group went on (an indefinite?) hiatus and two-thirds of the band, sisters Martie Maguire and Emily Robison, formed a side project in 2010 known as Court Yard Hounds, fans were treated to a song directly inspired by some members of the gay community. Of the song "Ain't No Son," <a href="http://www.cmt.com/news/country-music/1632294/two-dixie-chicks-talk-about-their-court-yard-hounds-project.jhtml" target="_hplink">Robison said</a>: <blockquote>"I turned the TV on, and it was A&E or one of those documentary kind of shows about these poor teenage kids who are devastated that their parents won't let 'em stay in the house because they found out they were gay... The lines, 'You ain't no son to me/Eight pound baby boy I bounced on my knee' were around from the very beginning. That idea, how can you have kids and love them so much and one day decide not to -- it just boggled my mind."</blockquote>
The country singer "Cowboys Are Secretly, Frequently (Fond of Each Other)," which he unveiled in 2006, was timed to coincide with the release of the gay cowboy film "Brokeback Mountain." The song was originally written in 1981 by Ned Sublette. Nelson's manager David Anderson, who came out in 2004, noted, "<a href="http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/entertainment/4715822.stm" target="_hplink">This song obviously has special meaning to me</a> in more ways than one... I want people to know more than anything -- gay, straight, whatever -- just how cool Willie is and ... his way of thinking, his tolerance, everything about him."
When asked by <em>Out</em> magazine about <a href="http://www.out.com/entertainment/2009/08/17/reba-stands-her-gays" target="_hplink">her gay friends and fans</a>, the country singer responded: <blockquote>"I just try not to judge. Don't judge me, and I won't judge you. And that's what it says in the Bible -- 'Don't judge.' Keep an open mind. That would be my voice. I have gay friends. I have a lot of straight friends. I don't judge them. I take them for what they are. They're my friends, and I can't defend my feelings for them, other than I like 'em."</blockquote>
Before the Canadian singer jumped the fence to the pop world -- and before she came out of the closet in 1992 -- she was a country singer. In fact, she <a href="http://www.autostraddle.com/7-lesbian-country-musicians-whove-been-out-44213/" target="_hplink">won a Grammy Award for Best Country Collaboration with Vocals</a> in 1989 for duet with Roy Orbison on "Crying" and received a Grammy Award for Best Female Country Vocal Performance for her 1989 album <em>Torch & Twang</em>. In 2002, she ranked #26 on CMT's 40 Greatest Women in Country Music.